Aspen Daily News Column - Mick Ireland

The horse race and the substance

Aspen being a part of America, much as we would sometimes deny it, and American politics being ever more a sporting contest than an exercise in choosing leaders based on substance, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that public interest focuses more on election outcomes than political hopes and aspirations.

Thus, the question I hear most often with a week left in the campaign is: Who will win? Not who should win, not what will happen if certain people win and others don’t, not why, not how but who, who, who will win.

Torre will win, if not next Tuesday then eventually, and for the simple reason that he is the best campaigner with the best name recognition and the best ability to understand and go with the ebb and flow of Aspen’s stream of political consciousness.

This is not to say he should win, just that he will. 

Around the turn of this century, he was perspicacious enough to understand that the public wanted to hear and believe in an Entrance to Aspen that was neither the present S-curve alignment nor the straight shot. When the town was suffering from a recession following the “dot-com” boom, he rode the infill wave, voting 16 times for zoning that allowed 40-foot buildings in hopes of reviving the economy.

Now he leads the team the mayor calls “Bert’s disciples,” fighting the very growth his past votes fostered and explaining with near eloquence and brevity that “those were different times,” and that while he may have supported the 40-foot red (or is it orange?) Lego building on the Little Annie’s corner and negotiated a variance to allow a 6,000-square-foot penthouse above, he “never voted for the space below to be empty.”

So well played that the would-be inquisitors in our local media never elicited so much as flinch, let alone a squirm for such inconsistencies.

If, in fact, the attack dogs who savaged less pliant candidates like Ann Mullins for voting on projects that were decided before she was elected, think that Torre will, if elected, further their aims simply because they knuckled her up, they are mistaken. They just don’t get it, for all their assiduous application of Machiavelli’s Prince to Aspen politics. 

There are no friends on powder days or the day after an election.

As so many of you have told me, Torre is Torre. He is not will never be a disciple of any other council member or belief system or political philosophy. His aim is to be mayor one day and his strategy is consistent even if his votes are not: figure out what people want and make it happen as best he can. Torre is beholden to popular opinion, not politicians. There isn’t a mean bone in his back nor his demeanor.

Torre’s approach is in sharp contrast to what the public says it wants in a candidate but seldom supports in an officeholder, principled support of even unpopular decisions made in the public’s long term interest.  

The incumbents, Art Daily and Ann Mullins, voted for the most thorough and unambiguous downzoning of Aspen, 28-foot height limits and a ban on penthouses in the core to no avail. At public forums, they find themselves asked to defend unpopular decisions like Base2 or a new city hall and neither has glibly asserted that such votes were taken in “different times.”

While we like to think of ourselves as the city especial, different from more plebeian places, a place where profiles in courage lead to re-election, I will be surprised if the final outcome isn’t: 1. Torre,  2. Skippy,  3. Ann,  4. Ward, though at least two of them and perhaps four of them will be in a runoff with only a hundred or so votes separating the winners from the losers.

While I personally lean toward the old school approach of sticking up for your mistakes and voting the public interest rather than the public desire, I think each of the candidates will do a fine job notwithstanding varied approaches and all are worthy of serious consideration.

Running for election is a hard task and mere candidacy itself a public service. It’s a campaign “trail,” not a cakewalk or pleasant stroll. The least we can do is honor that contribution by returning our ballots to the city clerk by May 2.

Mick Ireland has won some and lost one and reminds all hopefuls to be careful what they ask for.

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